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Vacant buildings waste money

Iqaluit city council last month committed $150,000 per year for five years to support the city's homeless shelter.Having visited the facility, we know that the support is critical. In January, we called on the city and its residents to help the city's most vulnerable men, and the city is showing it is prepared to do its share.

Now it is time for the territory to step up.

In communities across Nunavut, buildings – offices, apartments, and homes – sit empty while the government decides what or who will use the space.

In many cases, it's wise planning. Apartments are reserved for health professionals who might only be in town for part of the year but they stay long enough when they come that hotels become cost-prohibitive. Others are waiting for long-term workers, such as teachers, to be hired.

This is easy for regular folks to accept.

What is unacceptable is the number of buildings sitting vacant for ages without explanation.

Iqaluit city councillor Joanasie Akumalik has flagged the former Akausisarvik mental health centre as one such building. As Uquutaq Shelter Society executive director Doug Cox says, "It's heated, plowed, the lights are on."

Akumalik wants the territory to donate the space to the city. The government moved the mental health centre to a renovated facility four years ago this month. Uquutaq has paid $8,000 per month in rent, $96,000 per year, for a total of $384,000 over those four years.

In that time, what good work could that money have done to the benefit of the city's homeless men? While the old building continues to sit empty – burning territorial funds to keep it warm, lit, and plowed – the city is forced to duplicate that spending.

Iqaluit is not the only place where this issue is on people's minds. Tununiq MLA Joe Enook has raised the point in the legislature since he first took office to represent the people of Pond Inlet in 2011.

Under pressure to move to the hamlet after his election, he did so without a space for him. He lived in a shack for months, while GN staff houses sat empty. He said at the time that some had been empty for years.

Enook eventually found a house but just over a year ago, he raised the point again in the legislature. Finance Minister Keith Peterson, whose department is responsible for human resources, noted that the government was aware of the issue but indicated no end to the situation.

Enough is enough.

As an October election approaches, Nunavummiut deserve to know what is happening in their communities on this file. Which buildings are being held for which positions, how long have they been vacant, and what progress is being made to fill them?

It may not solve the problem but some transparency would help people decide whether their MLAs are doing a good job on this file and perhaps offer some advice on how to fix the problem.